A few years ago, fans laughed at Montreal Canadiens’ General Manager Marc Bergevin when he said, in his postseason Press Conference, wanting more character in the dressing room. More recently, the same fans and – a few others irked by the trade of their favourite player for a player “over the hill” they said – laughed even more when Bergevin talked about players not having the right attitude. He was made a mockery by those who hate his guts, including a few prominent media members who had been caught with their pants down at their ankles at one point by Bergevin in press conferences when the Habs’ boss turned the question on them, exposing them as the fakes that they are.
P.K. Subban gone. Alex Galchenyuk gone. Max Pacioretty gone. Distractions gone. Looking at this group, we knew that there was no way that they would be trying to tank for a chance at getting Alexis Lafrenière. Looking at this group, we knew that like their GM, they believed that by making the playoffs, anything could happen. Looking at this group, it oozes with character and a positive, hate-to-lose attitude and that, even in defeat.
While I completely disagree with the NHL, the Canadiens were given a chance to compete for the playoffs even though they all but had zero chances of doing so by the time hockey stopped back in March. Facing the fifth ranked team in the Eastern Conference, after having unloaded players at trade deadline, players led by Carey Price, Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Ben Chiarot, Brendan Gallagher and Paul Byron (amongst others) chomped at the bit to prove people wrong.
Call them underdog, Cinderella team, or a team playing over their head, the Habs had not much difficulty moving past Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and the rest of the Penguins straight into the playoffs. Fans and media call it an upset. Players in the Habs’ dressing room don’t believe it was. They believe in themselves, in their group. They always have. They believe that had it not been for a few bad breaks during the past season, they would have competed for the Stanley Cup. The just believed and still do, and it’s obvious.
Just from looking at them off the ice, you can tell that this group is focussed and determined. They know that this is a second chance, one that they wouldn’t have gotten if it wasn’t for COVID-19. This team has completely shut off the outside noise, the media, disgruntled fans, Subbanistas. Their only focus is the task at hands. It was the Pittsburgh Penguins, it’s now the Philadelphia Flyers.
Brian Burke said it. Don Cherry also said it. The Pens were upset about it and we now see why. If there’s one team you do not want to face, one that can cause so-called upsets, it’s the Montreal Canadiens. Why? A team with Carey Price and Shea Weber is not one that’s fun to play against. Add Jeff Petry, Ben Chiarot and Brendan Gallagher and you know that you’re in for a battle. Fans downplay it. Players don’t.
This team means business and that’s the approach they are taking. They are a team where everyone is pulling in the same direction, young and old. Young guys look at the veterans and want to be like them. Nick Suzuki looks at Phillip Danault and wants to be as efficient defensively in addition to bringing his own set of skills. Jesperi Kotkaniemi has worked his butt off when sent down to Laval, and worked just as hard while sidelined by a spleen injury and he’s a different player than at the start of this past season.
Are the Canadiens the best team on paper in that COVID Cup tournament? One would have to be pretty biased to claim that they are. But can they win it all? If you ask the players, if you look at the way they’re approaching these playoffs, THEY think that they can and as THEY are the ones playing the game, it’s all that matters, really. And for what it’s worth, I personally believe that if they stay relatively healthy, they have a shot. A long shot, but a shot nonetheless. Go Habs Go!